Sam Duffy is a teacher of English in our Senior School and Regional Advocate for Litdrive South Yorkshire. Sam has written a fantastic piece to share her experience of moving to guided home learning. She discusses delivering live lessons, the challenges she’s faced and the applications she’s found to be particularly effective. 

There are two maxims of teaching that have always seemed to resonate with me: No two days are ever the same and every day is a school day. Never has this been more the case than now, in this brave new world of guided home learning. We are fortunate at Sheffield Girls’ as we already use technology regularly in our teaching and learning so the jump to remote learning has not been as great as we might have feared. The use of the Google suite and Firefly in our day to day lessons means that we already had a head start but the move to using these as our main tools for the delivery of lessons has been a steep learning curve for all of us. 

The transition to guided home learning brought with it some challenges. Despite thorough training in how to use tools like GoogleMeet for our live lessons by our Head of E-Learning, we were met with a significant setback on the first day: due to unprecedented demand, Firefly was down. All those lessons we dutifully shared with the girls the night before, along with the joining instructions for the live lessons were inaccessible. That was the first lesson for us teachers: Always have a plan B! With my morning brew ready I sprung into action, emailing out the lessons and instructions to all my classes. And, despite all the chaos, I was amazed at how both teachers and pupils adapted and engaged with the days’ lessons. 

I’m happy to report that many of the initial problems have now been ironed out and I continue to be impressed with how well the girls of all ages, from Y7 to Y13, have adapted to the online lessons. Sadly, my cat doesn’t always understand this and can often be heard in the background meowing for his dinner and often makes a guest appearance in many of my live lessons! That aside, as a teacher, I have had to think carefully about how I adapt the curriculum so that our girls get the challenging experience they are used to in lessons as well as ensuring they are supported and have the opportunity to work together. Despite my anxiety about delivering live lessons (I certainly have a new found respect for YouTubers), they have proved to be really effective. GoogleMeet gives you the opportunity to broadcast and to show presentations which is surprisingly similar to ordinary teaching in a classroom and I was surprised how quickly I’ve gotten over my camera shyness. I have come to look forward to our live lessons as I genuinely miss my classes and it is lovely to catch up and see that they are all ok. It seems that both teachers and pupils appreciate the small things that create a bit of normality in what has been a really unsettling time for all of us. 

Being in lockdown has meant that it is easy to feel isolated and cut off from the world. As an English teacher I am mindful of the importance of discussion and debate and it was something which I wanted to try and facilitate and replicate. There are a few applications which I have found really useful and the girls are now using these really effectively. Applications like Padlet allow you to create a board where pupils can add comments and pictures. I have found this really useful as the girls can respond to a question, feedback their ideas but also comment on posts by their classmates to generate discussion. These boards can be accessed at any time so the girls can refer back to them when working independently. Another great tool is Mentimeter which is like an interactive PowerPoint. By using a simple six digit code, the girls can feedback ideas in interesting ways such as in a ‘word cloud’ which is a really visual way to showcase their ideas. Y9 have also been using a shared Google Doc to feedback their thoughts and annotations on the poems we have been studying which has proved really effective as they can all work on it at the same time. 

I had a head start on remote teaching as a week before the lockdown was announced I was advised to self isolate. Personally, one of the biggest challenges of working from home was the feeling of isolation and the increased amount of time spent in front of a screen. I found this much more tiring than a full day on my feet rushing around school. I have had to learn to take regular breaks and ensure that I go for a walk, do some baking or spend time doing something creative. In the English Department we have tried to ensure that there are lots of opportunities to do optional creative tasks that give the girls a welcome break from the screen. We have been impressed with our Easter challenge to create ‘loo roll literary characters’ and learn a poem by heart. As a teacher, it has also been lovely to take part in virtual team meetings as we all miss working together and sharing ideas. 

For many of us lockdown has not been easy. I’m sure teachers, pupils and parents have all experienced ups and downs, yet, what this strange period has taught me is that our teachers and the girls really do live by our school values, and, despite what has been thrown at us, everyone continues to respond with positivity, courage, and most importantly, kindness.